What does it take to become a viral Internet sensation? In the case of one Texan teen, not much; Alex from Target was simply the subject of a photo that would catapult him to viral stardom almost overnight.
If you haven't yet heard, Alex is a 16-year old Target clerk with a brand new mass of social media fans who are currently trying to break the Internet. In fact, the #AlexfromTarget hashtag on Twitter, with over 1.8 million tweets since it launched, is kicking the substantial behind of Kim Kardashian's #BreaktheInternet tag with its 226,000 tweets.
Yes, I'm sad that I know this.
On November 1, Alex was a regular teen with 144 Twitter followers. A British teen saw a picture of Alex on Instagram, diligently minding his Target till, and posted it to her Twitter account captioned (and I quote), "YOOOOOOOOOO."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Within a few hours, Alex from Target had picked up 100,000 Twitter followers. He's now closing in on three-quarters of a million on Twitter and his Instagram has absolutely exploded, with more than 2.3 million people tuning in for his every selfie.
Now, there is a lively discussion around whether or not Alex's fame was as accidental as it appeared. Cosmo "outed" Alex on November 7, after a company called Breakr tried to take credit for making the teen heartthrob an overnight sensation. However, their claims were refuted--sort of. No one's actually sure whether it was a viral campaign or not.
Regardless, the entire #AlexfromTarget affair once again underscores the massive power of social media marketing. Alex's favorite burger joint, Whataburger, must be pretty happy about his tweets raving about their food in the past (each of which now has hundreds of retweets and favorites).
Whether #AlexfromTarget is an accidental celebrity or the latest clever viral craze, here are a few indispensable viral marketing tips you can take from this Texas teenager:
1. Challenge the Status Quo
Sept 16: "Parents ground me for leaving a shirt in MY bathroom sink... wtf."
Ah, yes. Teenaged angst and rebellion, something pretty much everyone in his target market can identify with. Even though Alex tweeted this a month and a half before he became an overnight star, almost a hundred people crept back in his profile to find this gem and retweet it, while another 670+ favorited it. Viral marketers: go your own way! Break the rules. Leave your shirt in the sink and tweet about it.
2. Be Witty
Sept 17: "Shout out to the lawnmower guys for waking me up this morning."
Don't grumble about the things that aren't going quite right--no one wants to read that. Any negative can be turned on its head and rephrased as a witticism, a lesson, or some other positive quip. Use humor to give followers something they can identify with and hopefully share.
3. Be Honest
Sept 25: "I don't know how to Twitter."
Almost 1,300 people interacted with this simple tweet, and you can bet that didn't happen while young Alex had just 144 followers. People appreciate this honesty from Alex (assuming once again that it wasn't a marketing ploy) and they look for honesty from businesses, too. It's humanizing, even if he's not as hapless as that tweets make him seem.
4. Ask Questions
Nov 2: "Am I famous now?"
Awww. Seriously, people loved this one--this tweet earned almost 130,000 retweets and favorites, and many more comments. Social media users want to interact and be engaged, so ask questions. It helps if you're positioned to be the next Bieber, of course, but every marketer and brand should be asking questions to engage their audience. If your questions are adorable, surprising, unexpected or in some other way remarkable, that's even better.
5. Don't Worry About What You Can't Control
Nov 2: "Already fake accounts of me." (With a crying smiley face emoticon, of course.)
Most big brands have to deal with things outside of their control on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes these parody accounts, hashtags-gone-wild and other viral elements even make mainstream news. It's important to be aware and monitor what's going on around your social brand, but don't tread into control freak territory by trying to shut down all conversation you don't control (I'm looking at you, Kathleen Hale).
So what does it really take to go viral? Is it careful planning, or dumb luck? The jury is still out in the case of #AlexfromTarget, so take from it what you will! If this was all orchestrated, the people behind it are about to see their business explode, as well.